The Synergy of Pre- and Probiotics

prebiotics and probiotics foods

One of the most important aspects of yogurt as a source of health benefits is the synergy of two health-promoting substances: prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the gut by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or more beneficial bacteria in the colon.  Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are one of the many classes of prebiotics and they’re found in legumes, vegetables, cereals, and yogurt. These non-absorbed fibers inhibit potentially pathogenic organisms while increasing the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that, when taken in adequate amounts, can be of benefit to our health.

The evidence of prebiotics and probiotics foods promoting health and fighting disease is increasing on a monthly basis and is now supported by many double-blind, placebo-controlled human trials.

Like all of the SuperFoods, yogurt works synergistically to promote health and fight disease: it provides a range of health benefits that include live active cultures, protein, calcium and B vitamins, which work together in such a way that the sum is greater than the parts.

Yogurt’s primary benefit—as a probiotic—is something that at first blush runs counter to the trend of most modern medicine. With the success of antibiotics beginning shortly after World War II, doctors and the public have come to view microorganisms as evil disease-promoters, which must be relentlessly eradicated. The truth is the key to health is balance: the goal is not to eradicate all microorganisms, but rather to promote the health of the beneficial ones. Yogurt plays a primary role in this promotion by encouraging the growth of “good” bacteria and limiting the proliferation of ‘bad” ones.

Yogurt has multiple immune stimulating activities both inside and outside the gastrointestinal (Gl) tract. An interesting study has shown that if you eat yogurt with live active cultures, you decrease the amount of a common pathogenic bacterium – Staphylococcus aureus – in the nasal passages. This is a clear sign that the yogurt is stimulating the immune system.

Our gastrointestinal tracts are home to over 500 species of bacteria—some helpful and some harmful to our health. We rely on these beneficial microbial “partners” for a number of important functions, including carbohydrate metabolism, amino acid synthesis, vitamin K synthesis and the processing of various nutrients.

Yogurt is a source of beneficial bacteria, and the positive results are not relegated to the digestive tract. While a host of beneficial health effects are linked to yogurt, those that have attracted the most attention include its anti-cancer properties, its ability to lower cholesterol, and its ability to inhibit unfriendly bacteria.

One of the great benefits of the probiotics in yogurt is its ability to strengthen the immune system and help the body prevent infection. In an era of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and seemingly new infectious threats like SARS and West Nile virus, the value of boosting one’s immune system becomes immeasurable.

This mounting body of very recent news simply confirms ancient wisdom. Here are some fun history facts about yogurt:

In 76 B.C., the Roman historian Plinius recommended fermented milk products (yogurt) for treatment of gastroenteritis. And a Persian version of the Old Testament (Genesis 18:8) states: “Abraham owed his longevity to the consumption of sour milk.”

Flash forward to about 100 years ago when Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease. He was one of the first to postulate that our health is intertwined with the living beneficial microorganisms residing on our skin and in our bodies. Yogurt is the most commonly eaten probiotic food that contributes to the balance of microorganisms in our system. With contemporary, cutting-edge research, folklore has become scientific fact: Yogurt is indeed a SuperFood.